Customer Focus in Proposals

Customer focus is a trait that everyone claims but few communicate in their proposals. When someone in a business development role asks, “are you customer focused?” The usual answer is, “of course!”

What characteristics make one proposal more customer-focused than another proposal? Do different individuals perceive customer focus differently? Do individuals with different cultural backgrounds or positions perceive customer focus differently?

To determine the answer, we asked individuals to rank the customer focus of five sample documents. The base document was a 2-page executive summary.

To date more than 5,000 people from 40 countries and 5 continents have completed this exercise. The results have been consistent across cultures:

  1. Seventy percent (70%) ranked the same document as most customer focused.
  2. The composite ordinal ranking was consistent from group to group.
  3. The least customer-focused version was ranked last by 70 percent of the participants.
  4. About one-half of the participants could cite specific aspects of the writing that explained their ranking.

In other words, customer focus is intuitive and valued by the reader—yet, many writers fail to demonstrate a customer focus in their writing.

How can you make your proposal more customer focused?

  • Cite the customer organization’s buying vision— address their primary need.
  • Link the customer’s buying vision directly to the solicitation.
  • Cite the customer’s hot buttons (needs, issues, and motivators) in theme statements.
  • Make customer ownership of the hot button explicit—Who within customer organization owns the hot button issue?
  • Prioritize and address hot buttons in the order preferred by the customer.
  • Whenever possible, name the customer before your own organization in paragraphs and sentences.
  • Name the customer as many or more times than your own organization.
  • Cite benefits before features in your writing.

These simple techniques put the focus on customer needs and issues and help showcase your understanding of how to solve their problem.

Customer focused proposals that are also compliant have a much greater success rate than proposals that are seller-focused.